Fifth-grade students at McKinley Elementary School can lay claim to something college art students would envy -- having a hand in the creation of the largest indoor collaborative artwork in the world.

On a recent morning they painted images that ranged from various nations' flags to smiley faces to their own interpretations of the sun on recycled paper molds that will be links between larger art works making up the American Mural Project, a three-dimensional painting so large that a building in Winsted is being created for it.

The mural will be 120 feet long by 48 feet high, and about 6 to 8 feet deep, according to Ellen Griesedieck, the mastermind behind the project.

"It makes me feel happy to know we're a part of something that a lot of people are going to see," said 11-year-old Mira Elzanaty during Kathy Reddy's art class.

Fellow fifth-grader Judy Kabbani described the experience as "awesome."

Why?

"I feel special working with Ellen," she said, "because I've never worked with a person that was very famous."

In addition to being a former photographer for Sports Illustrated, People and Road and Track magazines, Griesedieck also designed the first label for the Newman's Own line of products founded by the late actor Paul Newman. The art is still used to this day, though different articles of clothing or hatwear are added to Newman's visage depending on the product. Newman, who died in 2008, was a supporter of the American Mural Project, which is a celebration of American ingenuity, productivity and commitment to work.

From truck drivers to Boeing factory workers, "everybody is on that mural," Griesedieck.

"It honors every American worker," said Reddy, who last year took this year's fifth-grade students to the former mill to work on some block prints as well as to see the mural's future home. Actually, two former mill buildings will house the mural and an adjacent visitor's center, which project sponsors say will become a destination for field trips, guest lectures and workshops with local artists and artisans, as well as the on-site portion of the American Mural Project's curriculum.

Different pieces of the mural already have been exhibited at various locations, but it is still about four years from completion. Griesedieck said she has worked with approximately 10,000 people on the project so far and she asked people in all 50 states to contribute in some way.

She added the project started out as a tribute to America's workers, "but the minute I started to involve kids I realized the impact it could have as an incentive for them in making a decision about what they want to do" later in life.

"It's a way into every piece of curriculum. It's a way of exploring every avenue or career," she said. "There's a big power to this which goes beyond the mural itself."

Students at McKinley -- which has the most cultural and racial diversity of any school in Fairfield -- were also asked to bring in family photos, photocopies of which will be applied to the S-shaped mural links.

Ten-year-old Mathew Davitt showed the Fairfield Citizen a photo of his grandfather on his farm in Brazil standing with a horse. Not everyone brought in pictures of a grandparent. Most had shots of their mothers and fathers.

However, Mathew said his grandfather is "really important to me and he said, when he dies, the farm (complete with horses, cows, mules and three bulls) is going to be passed on to me."

Even the mill building, as large as it is now, is not big enough for Griesedieck's mural project.

"We're raising the roof 30 feet, to 60 feet," she said, "and the inside will be as big as the Parthenon."

During a chat with a group of McKinley students, Griesedieck told the children when all is said and done, "it's going to take days to look at this."

And she wasn't exaggerating.

For more information on the American Mural Project, log onto www.wallofamerica.org.